How VR is being used in mental health treatment
BY KAYLA NOBREGA
Would you believe me if I told you that virtual reality technology has been around since the 1960’s? It’s not that the technology is new – although it has been modified and is more advanced than what it was when first implemented – but we have found new uses for it.
The medical industry, with its constant striving for more effective, less invasive ways of treating different sicknesses in people, relies on the advancement of technology. With the rise of awareness of mental disorders, and only a few ways of dealing with them, VR technology has presented itself as an option.
The way your brain is conned into an alternative world in VR gaming, is the same way it can be conned into other situations. Although the user is aware that what they are experiencing is not real, their bodies behave as if it is.
Take acrophobia as an example. People with a fear of heights are taken through different situations that render them high above the ground – virtually, of course – and their bodies physically react to this. It has been recorded that heart rates increase, the patient’s stomach churns, and the patient starts to panic.
To help the patient overcome this fear and anxiety, each VR experience is progressive. At first they will be taken to a certain height and just have to look around. Eventually, they will be standing on a tall ledge and have to take a step off it. The thought of danger being combated by the reality of no danger (not falling off the ledge even after stepping off) helps the patient deal with the fear.
Other cases recorded for successfully treating fear and anxiety include arachnophobia, and the fear of flying. Clinical tests are being conducted to validate the use of VR in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well.